The art of busking
I see busking as an art and a science, and it grants me an insight to how people respond to what's happening around them.
When I am in a giving state of mind, and focusing on creating music it creates a harmonious atmosphere that people feel happy to walk into and is uplifting and warm.
When I'm in a taking state of mind, and focusing on making money it creates a thick and grasping atmosphere that people feel violated by.
I usually float through both states of mind while I am playing for a few hours, sometimes changing from one minute to the next. My aim is to cultivate the positive atmosphere because it is far nicer for me and for the audience that listen to my music!
These are some tips that I find help create a nice atmosphere, based on my own experience.
Choose your pitch to match your mood. If you are feeling energetic and loud, that's a great time to play in a busy or open space like a high street or a town square. If you feel calm and quiet a narrower street means you can play and sing more gently and still fill the area with your music. I like to play in lanes when I feel like this as it's more intimate and relaxing. Try and find a place that suits your volume and style, if you are singing and have a quiet voice avoid playing where you have to SHOUT because this is not singing!
Create your pitch however you like. At the moment, I arrange a rainbow scarf into various shapes and place my hat on it, occasionally I light a couple of incense sticks. I generally try and keep it neat and tidy so my mind feels clearer and more creative. I used to have a small stool, recently I have preferred to sit cross legged on the floor again. But it is all yours, you are creating your own stage out of thin air in the street, let it reflect whatever you want it to :)
Play music that you love, whether it's your own or covers, and it will sound beautiful regardless of your level of skill. I hear people playing songs that are currently on the radio and trying to emulate the original artist's interpretation. People passing by will instantly compare it to the original and this makes the performer (usually) sound poor by comparison. If you're covering a song try to make it your own interpretation :)
Keep your repertoire fresh and learn/write new music as often as you can. A tired routine sounds very tired and the response will be of people tired of hearing your music even if they haven't heard it before! Performing music is a very reflective activity... Your audience will feel what you feel. Keep it interesting and new and it will be more enjoyable for them and for you. Love every minute!
Remember that the audience is transient, ever changing. Playing in the street is unique like this because most people will only hear several seconds of your music, maybe 30 seconds at most. This means you don't have to feel pressured to perform a perfect hour long set, each moment that you can stay in a creative and peaceful state is worth it for the listener. I always find myself becoming nervous one moment, and a few people will pass by unengaged, as I allow myself to let go of the tension it warms up again and a few people will pass by and smile and enjoy hearing the music :) .
Speak to those who speak to you. Because usually it is helpful to hear praise or criticism to know how you sound to people passing by. Many people will believe that they can't speak to you, that it's rude to interrupt but some of the best connections I find are through making music in the street. When I have been travelling, and at a loss to know where to head next, I stop and play, almost every time the direction has become clear through meeting someone with the next piece of the puzzle.
If you're using an amplifier, be reasonable with it. Stick to a volume where people hear your music as they see you. If they hear you 50 yards down the street at full volume it will be a racket by the time they reach you, so be aware of your field of energy and how big your pitch really is.
Forget about the hat, don't look at the hat, don't even think about counting what's in the hat before you pack up to go home. I've made this mistake enough times, and if I have made a lot of money in the first hour, I feel disappointed if I make less the second hour. If I have made 50p in the first hour, I feel desperate to make more in the second hour to feel valued as a musician, and fall straight into the taking state of mind again. Forget the money, focus on your music!
Invest the money you do make carefully and creatively. The people who give you a drop are doing so in support of your performance, that is what they're choosing to contribute towards. To progress as a street performer, theres a whole world of equipment and tools available to make your performance captivating and different. Save some money towards a decent amplifier, a microphone, a stool, or whatever you want in your pitch. Let the people contribute towards your vision, and give them back a load more colour and vibrancy!
Speak to other buskers, share your experiences, drop some of your earnings to other buskers that you like. What goes around, comes around. Often you will see things that other buskers do that you'd like to include in your pitch, they will inspire you, and in new places they will often share good pitch locations with you and give you the lowdown on busking in that place. Collaborate if you like, it's always nice busking with other people because you carry each other and lift each other up.
The most important thing is to enjoy yourself as much as possible. The above tips are the methods that I use to ensure I don't get tired or frustrated by busking. There have been many times when I've been worried for money or unconfident in my ability as a musician, and through my music people hear feel that and respond exactly to that theme. When I am carefree, peaceful and happy the music can lift people passing into the same realm and as a result they show gratitude. After all, everybody loves a free gig, or at least one where they choose the price of their ticket :)
Donations appreciated, but smiles are my fuel!!!